EDITORS NOTE: This interview was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
At 14, Toronto school friends Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner made a pact to rock together forever. Their band, Anvil, went on to become the “demigods of Canadian metal,” releasing one of the heaviest albums in metal history, 1982’s Metal on Metal. The album influenced a musical generation, including Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, and went on to sell millions of records. But Anvil’s career took a different path–straight to obscurity. Director Sacha Gervasi, according to the Sundance Film Festival‘s John Cooper, has “concocted a wonderful and often hilarious account of Anvil’s last-ditch quest for elusive fame and fortune. His ingenious filmmaking may first lead you to think this a mockumentary, but it isn’t…’Anvil! The Story of Anvil’ is a timeless tale of survival and the unadulterated passion it takes to follow your dream, year after year.” Gervasi spoke to indieWIRE about the film, which opened last Friday in Toronto, Canada, and expands to New York and Los Angeles this Friday, April 10th.
Please introduce yourself…
I’m Sacha Gervasi.I was born and brought up in London, and I live in L.A. now. My first ever job was making sandwiches for the executive directors at Lord’s cricket ground in London. We used to put ash in the sandwiches because we did not like the executive directors very much — they were rude to us. Later, I worked on the production line of a specialty mustard factory near the outskirts of Toronto, and I was fired. I can’t remember why exactly but I do remember it was pretty bad and that someone in a hairnet was screaming at me. I have no desire to return to the catering industry but should it be necessary I have the requisite skills.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
How I became a filmmaker… I went to see this film called “Withnail and I” at the Curzon on Shaftesbury Avenue in London when it first came out in 1986. It was a major shock to the system. I was living that exact life at the time — doing the same kind of drugs, drinking and generally causing trouble wherever I went. I felt the film at such a profound, guttural level. It was as if someone had peered into my life. I’m not sure I’d understood how powerful and personal film could be up until that point. I decided right there and then I wanted to try and make my life about doing that, whatever doing that meant. Later on I managed to meet the film’s director Bruce Robinson. He took me out for a curry near his house in Wimbledon and told me I was mad to want to get into a business as heartbreaking and stupid as the film business. I felt as if he was testing me. He assured me he wasn’t. “It’s far more shit than you could ever imagine,” he said as he forked his onion bahjee. He was right of course but I really don’t regret having found that out for myself.
Did you go to film school, and have you worked on other film projects?
I went to UCLA film school. I’ve worked as a writer on studio films for the last few years, and I’ve watched a lot of directors work. You learn what to do, how to be, and sometimes what to avoid. It’s like poker. You really don’t know if the thing’s actually going to work until it does or it doesn’t.
What prompted the idea for “Anvil! The True Story of Anvil” and how did it evolve?
I think the idea for this film hatched somewhere around 1982. I went to see this amazing band called Anvil play at the Marquee club in London, and were known as the ‘demi-gods of Canadian metal’ back then. I met them after the show and they invited me to roadie for them on a tour the following summer. It was possibly the greatest time of my life. I toured with Anvil a few more times during the ’80s but eventually we lost touch… [Then] I met them again a couple of years ago. It had been twenty years since we’d last seen each other. The band had never made it but they’d never stopped trying. I knew pretty quickly there was a film there.
Elaborate on your approach to making the film…
My approach to making the film was to surrounded myself with the best people I could find who would work for free and just go for it. I had no idea what I was doing, only an instinct. I followed that mercilessly.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
The biggest challenge was in trying to make a compelling singular narrative out of hundreds of hours of footage. We could have made six films, but at the end of the day, there was only one story [producer] Rebecca Yeldham and I wanted to tell. The film could never have been made without her. She is a natural wonder. A director could never in a million years dream up a better person to produce their film.
What are some of your recent and all-time favorite films?
I like “Made in England” that came out recently. Other films I love in no particular order: “Withnail and I,” “Chinatown,” “Sweet Smell of Success,” “Betty Blue,” “Naked,” “Prick up your ears,” “Les Valseuses,” “Riff Raff.”
How do you define success as a filmmaker?
Success as a filmmaker to me is knowing inside that it’s good no matter what others think or how well it does or doesn’t do. At the end of the day, it’s about making a film you love that you want to see and I know this is one I will look back on and be proud to have made. Moving forward, I only want to direct films I actually give a fuck about. If you’re coming from the heart, you can’t fail really — whatever it is that you’re doing.
Any details on upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Upcoming projects? Yes but they’re too insane to get into right now.